Carnegie Free Public Library (Former)

17 Hamilton Street And Tancred Street, Hokitika

  • Carnegie Free Public Library (Former). Image courtesy of
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ (Phil Braithwaite). Taken By: PhilBee NZ (Phil Braithwaite).
  • Carnegie Free Public Library (Former). Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans - flyingkiwigirl. Date: 15/04/2015.
  • Carnegie Free Public Library (Former).
    Copyright: Westland District Council. Date: 16/08/2005.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1702 Date Entered 11th December 2003


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Res 1865 (NZ Gazette 1947 p. 163), Westland Land District and the building known as Carnegie Free Public Library (Former) thereon. (Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 8 October 2015.)

City/District Council

Westland District


West Coast Region

Legal description

Res 1865 (NZ Gazette 1947 p. 163), Westland Land District


In 1903 the Mayor of Hokitika, Mr. H. L. Michel, wrote to the Scottish Philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, asking for a grant of £4,000 for the purpose of building a public library. Andrew Carnegie had migrated to the United States in the mid 19th Century and built an industrial empire based on steel production. He believed that anyone with the inclination could educate themselves, as he had, by reading at a library, and he also considered that those who had the good fortune to acquire wealth had a moral obligation to benefit society. He donated funds in 1883 for a library in his home town Dunfermline, Scotland, a grand Gothic structure with the motto "Let there be light" over the entrance. Over the following years he funded the building of 2,509 libraries throughout the English speaking world. They were in a wide range of styles but often included a monumental entrance He built 17 in New Zealand at a cost of (US)$194,460. On the West Coast, Westport also has a handsome Carnegie Library (Category II).

Carnegie responded to the Hokitika request, agreeing to donate £2,000 for construction purposes and a further £500 for furnishings. The Hokitika Savings Bank also agreed to donate £400. With this handsome fund available a design was provided by architect A.R. Griffen from Nelson and in 1906 when tenders were called, a contact was let to William Arnott and Co. for £2,034. 2. 0.

The foundation stone was laid with due ceremony in November 1906, and the building was completed for the opening on 24th June 1908. The people of Hokitika were delighted by the new facility, an "architectural ornament to the town" and "the finest building architecturally on the West Coast" according to the contemporary newspaper. The building contains five handsomely finished rooms lit by large circular headed windows. Each room was finished with decorative metal ceilings provided by the Wunderlich Company of Sydney. The building came into use as Andrew Carnegie would have desired, though Hokitika produced no rags to riches immigrants of the Carnegie scale model as a result.

The building's shallow pitched slate roof had never coped with the heavy West Coast rainfall and was soon replaced by corrugated iron. In 1952 building regulations against earthquake risk required the removal of the parapet plaster feature. Without its crowning embellishments the building was less imposing, but still provided a grand feature in the townscape.

In 1975 the library transferred to new premises and the building was used as offices and then as storage for the Hokitika Borough Council. By the late 1980s it was in a poor state of repair with serious leaking causing rotting of the interior. After suggestions that the building's time had ended and it should be demolished, the local group Heritage Hokitika took up the challenge of finding a new use for it and achieving its restoration. They were successful in gaining wide public support. Funds were gathered and it was agreed that the building could serve in provide a community gallery, information centre and entrance to the adjacent museum. A substantial grant from the Lotteries Board ensured the project could proceed and the building was reopened in 1998. The Carnegie Gallery for community use now occupies the room to the left of the entrance while on the right is the information centre. The museum uses other spaces for display purposes. In 2003 a replica cupola, no longer providing the function of ventilator, was reinstated on the roof's apex.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The former library building has historical significance as an example of the munificence of Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish born American philanthropist who donated most of the cost for its construction and furnishing.

The quality of the design, showing the typical interpretation of classical elements favoured in the Edwardian period, make it important architecturally.

It has cultural value for the role it played in the provision of information to the community at large, its size and grandeur reflecting the importance such a facility had in the borough of Hokitika.

The library building is worthy of Category II status because it represents an important aspect of New Zealand history. This is one of the 17 such institutions given to the country by Andrew Carnegie. It also represents a historical phase in Hokitika's development when big mining companies were asserting their presence in the district. This had led to a more settled era after the earlier gold rush days, with the establishment of civic amenities and the anticipation of a future of growth and stability.

The building has the potential to provide knowledge of Hokitika's history as its own history is revealed by its current use. The community esteem for the place is reflected in the efforts that were put into its conservation over a period of several years as its potential for becoming a show place of the town once more was recognised.

The scale, proportions, style and detailing of the former library make it a landmark in Hokitika. Its technical value also derives from its skilfully executed design and imposing architectural character.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Griffin, Arthur Reynolds

Griffin practised architecture in Nelson from the early 1900s to about 1960. He designed many residences and a number of public buildings in the city including the Public Library and the Nurses' Home at the Public Hospital. Griffin was responsible for many Nelson buildings but his work was not known outside the province.

Arnott, W & Co.

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Williden, George


Cederman & Co.


Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Classical forms articulate the simple rectangular shape of the single storeyed building (21metres x 17 metres), with a central projecting portico over the entrance on to Hamilton Street. The two side facades feature projecting end bays defined by Corinthian columns. The construction is double skin load-bearing brick and the original low slate roof was screened by an elaborately detailed parapet which encircled the building. At the apex of the hipped roof was an octagonal shaped ventilator. These crowning features have been reinstated.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1906 - 1908
Officially opened 24 June 1908.

1952 -
Parapets considered an earthquake risk and removed.

1975 -
Library closed.

1995 -
Restoration of the building.

Construction Details

Brick and concrete, iron roof (formerly slate).

Completion Date

6th September 2004

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

NZHPT File 12009-333

Common Ground

Common Ground

'Temples for the People', Common Ground, Spring 2010, pp.6-11

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.